Macau is most famous for it’s enormous, action-packed casinos, but there is more to this city than just gambling. As a former Portuguese colony, Macau has a rich culinary history – a fusion of West and East, assimilating the best of both in bold and exciting ways.
While we only spent three days in the “Las Vegas of Asia”, we still had a chance to sample some of the local delicacies. In fact, it was almost impossible to avoid them. The old colonial streets of the Peninsula are lined with local restaurants, bakeries, and other food vendors – many of them offering free samples. I would gain a lot of weight if I lived here!
Chinese tourists from the mainland make up the majority of visitors to Macau, and most of them bring home the special almond cookies and beef jerky produced here. Both are phenomenal.
The almond cookies are Macau’s top souvenir – we even took a few boxes home to share with our friends and family back in the US. They are meticulously made by hand, starting with a mixture of flour, sugar, shortening, and ground almonds. This is then pressed into long, intricate wooden forms, and finally slapped upside-down onto tables to release the individual cookies. They taste something like a shortbread cookie, with a delicate flavor and a soft, crumbly texture.
Say the word “jerky” and the first thing you probably think of is that dry, tough, leathery product sold at minimarts, gas stations, and other fine establishments. Macanese jerky – a version of Chinese “Bakkwa” – is nothing like this. For a start, the product is sold in large square sheets. Hawkers cut off small samples of delicious beef and pork flavors using scissors. Unlike the stuff back home, this jerky is moist, salty, and sweet all at the same time.
As we previously mentioned, Heather’s friend Jeff was featured on an episode of No Reservations as Anthony Bourdain’s guide to Macau. Jeff brought Bourdain to a steamed milk custard shop – one of the local delicacies. While it wasn’t really Tony’s thing (he doesn’t seem to have much of a sweet tooth), we still wanted to visit.
We tried both white milk custard and the yellow egg custard. You can order them cold or hot – the white custard warm and with ginger was heavenly.
The custard is also served in small custard tarts, adapted from the Portuguese pastel de nata and now popular throughout Asia.
Another famous dish we tried, but failed to photograph, was the pork chop bun (choapa bao). This amazing fast food is just what it sounds like – a deep fried pork chop served on a soft bun. Simple, but incredibly rich and delicious.
Finally, we topped off our Macau experience with some excellent Portuguese wine from MacauSoul, a fantastic wine bar near the Ruins of St. Paul. This small, intimate place is run by a friendly British couple, offering an experience worlds away from the megacasinos. Nibbling on tapas and sipping some fantastic and affordable wines, we chatted with Jeff and owners about the changing face of Macau.
We came to Macau expecting an Asian version of Las Vegas, but what we found was far more interesting. Above all, we were blown away by the food – a true reflection of this city’s connection between the east and west, the old and new.